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Riding Together

Riding Together: Trail & Group Hacking Etiquette

The majority of Hidden Trails' equestrian vacations incorporate trail riding or hacking out in groups, the main difference for each ride being the varied beautiful landscapes we have to choose from in each region and country.  Whether you are climbing steep and narrow mountain paths, cantering across wide open meadows, trekking to your next hacienda or splashing in the waves as you trot along the beach, there are simple rules of etiquette that all riders should try to adhere by to ensure the safety of all riders and horses involved.  Even if you are an experienced rider in the riding arena, sometimes you may need a brush up before you hit the trail, and for novices it is always a good idea to learn them before heading out.  The biggest rule to remember, at any rate, is to use safety and common sense!  If the behavior seems dangerous – it probably is! Hidden Trails has put together a set of guidelines which can be used while you are participating in one of our equestrian vacations or simply when you are riding on the local trails at home!  Enjoy!

1. The Two Legged & Two Wheeled:
Hikers and cyclists ideally should be yielding to the horseback riders, but be aware this is not always the case.  It is a good idea to speak a few words to them as you go past, this way it allows your horse to recognize them for what they are by hearing their human voices.  If the horse is nervous, ask the hiker or biker to stand off to the side of the trail and keep the conversation going as you pass by. You should stay relaxed at all times so your horse doesn’t feed off any anxiety of your own.  Sometimes it is a good idea to ask how many are hiking with them in their group or if they have seen any other hikers out on the trail.  That way you will be prepared for any other unexpected guests.  Of course, always be kind and courteous; we are all out in the wilderness to have a good time and explore the world!

2.  Yielding to Strangers:  Ideally, single riders should yield to large groups of riders hacking together.  The same goes for downhill riders; they should let the riders going uphill have the right of way.  This is not always possible due to the particular trail or some riders are not aware of proper etiquette.  In these cases, play it safe and yield yourself or quickly discuss it with the oncoming rider and make a choice together and follow through.  If the trail is so narrow that only one can walk it at a time, again, discuss with the other rider and then have one turn around and back track until there is a safer place to pass each other.  If you must turn around on a steep and narrow trail, always turn your horse towards the downhill edge as they can observe where they are putting each of their front feet and can do it carefully, whereas the back legs are out of their vision and they may accidently step off the trail.  Unless you are familiar with the oncoming horse(s) you should assume that both horse and rider are inexperienced, so you are prepared if anything should happen.  If there is plenty of room on a wide trail to pass at the walk, without having to stop or yield, riders normally ride like they drive in their country; if you drive your car on the right hand-side of the road in North America, generally use the right hand side of the trail with your horse is sharing with an oncoming rider. 

3.  Riding Together:  Always maintain at least one horse length between you and the next horse on the trail (more if possible!).  This gives you enough room & time to react safely if there is an accident in front of you or a quick stop.  Similar to driving a car, you don’t want any rear-end fender benders!  Be aware of your horse and what he is doing at all times - even when you are enjoying the beautiful  landscape, you need to be able to control the animal.  Also stay aware of the other horses and riders in your peripheral.  Unruly horses normally go in the back!  Some horses are cranky, just like some people are.  Also, some horses are spirited or act up due to inexperience on the trail, among other things.  If you have one who is cranky or one which is acting out, it is best for you and all involved if you bring up the rear.  This way the other horses cannot see your mount misbehaving, which could upset them, and also then your little delinquent can see all the well-behaved horses in front of him.  If you are lucky, it could help in teaching him a thing or two about manners by example, or it may calm a spooky horse to see the rest of them passing a scary part on the trail first.  A red ribbon in the tail is the nearly universal sign for a “Kicker”.  If the horse in front of you bears one of these – STAY BACK further than with other horses.  Be aware of this horse’s behavior, it will show you the signs of an oncoming kick before it happens: pinned ears, angry swishing tail, cocked leg.  And finally, always ride to the level of the least experienced rider of the group; ride at the paces they are comfortable at and pick trails they can navigate with confidence.

4.  There’s No Mind Reading: Make sure you always announce to the other riders in your group before making the decision to transition gaits, upwards and downwards.  If you are on a horseback tour, it is the job of the guide(s) to decide when it is the right/safe time to change pace, but if you unexpectedly have to pull up or need to break pace suddenly, let people around you know so they can avoid an accident and all slow down together!  If you are riding unguided, always make sure the change of pace is agreed upon by all members of the group, horses have a strong herd instinct and they will take it upon themselves to keep up with the other s – if you gun your horse into a gallop it is very likely the person’s horse behind you will try to follow whether their rider is prepared or not! 

5.  Crossing the Water:  If it is a short bridge, cross one at a time.  If it is a long bridge, walk together but keep a much larger distance between one another than on the trail.  When crossing without a bridge, don’t take the horse in deeper than his knees if you cannot see the bottom.  Always avoid crossing a part of a river or stream that it is immediately upstream from a deep section of the river because horses tend to drift in the current and you do not want to end up in over your head, literally!  If you can see many large boulders on the bottom, even in clear and visible water, you should steer clear as this will be treacherous footing for your horse. 

6.  Taking a Break: Do get off the horse once and a while to give them a break and stretch your own weary legs!  If the horses are having a drink, take turns and don’t over crowd.  Wait until all horses have had a chance to take a drink before beginning to walk away; horses are herd animals and do not want to be left alone…a thirsty horse may abandon his much needed drink if he is worried that he is going to be left behind by the others!  Please resist from tying up your horse with the reins of your bridle, this is extremely dangerous for the horse!  Bring an appropriate halter with leadline and tie using safety release knots only.  Never tie your horse to any deadened tree – standing or otherwise!  When remounting after a break, be considerate of everyone and wait for all to be mounted before walking away from the group.

7.  Leave No Evidence:  The land is a gift we’d like to enjoy forever.  Please do not cut switchbacks on your own or walk over wet ground off the trail as your horses hooves are sharp and will destroy fragile vegetation.  Always clean up after yourselves; trash and cigarette butts are not welcome in our wilderness!  Put best: Take only photographs, leave only footprints!!


Thanks for taking the time to brush up on your trail riding/hacking etiquette with Hidden Trails.  These skills, paired with a general sense of calmness, flexibility and benevolence, will ensure that you make and keep your horsey friends, as well keep everyone on the trail safe whilst on your adventure with us or exploring the “back yard” of your hometown!


References:
http://www.outfitterssupply.com/russon/trail-riding-etiquette.asp
http://www.outfitterssupply.com/russon/dos-and-don%27ts.asp
http://dailyequine.blogspot.com/2009/06/manners-on-trail-trail-riding-etiquette.html
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